Epistles of Thomas

September 29, 2017

Categorical accusers?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Thomas @ 9:40

I was reading Wm. Paul Young’s latest book, Lies We Believe About God, yesterday and came across an interesting point that he makes using the Greek word κατήγορος. Here is the full quote:

The New Testament was originally written in common Greek—Koine Greek (most of it). Guess what the Greek word for accuse is, as in “the Satan is an accuser”? (see Revelation 12:10). It is kategoro, from which we get the English word categorize. It means to put something or someone into a group to categorize them. We do this all the time, not always improperly, either. But when such categorizations carry an implicit judgment of value and worth, we are joining the adversary of our humanity, the Satan. Entering into divisive accusation reduces if not disintegrates the unity of our common humanity, and we become butchers of the Body of Christ.

They say that a little Greek is a dangerous thing and I think in this case it is. I’m not sure that Young’s tangent was at all helpful in making his point in this chapter. There are several problems with his conjecture, not the least is running afoul of the semantic anachronism fallacy that Carson warned us of in my post of two days ago.

I looked up Revelation 12:10 of course and then did a search on κατήγορος. I see that it is a hapax legomenon, meaning that this noun appears only once in the New Testament. The verb which appears in the same verse is used 23 times in the NT. We immediately run into a problem in that this word is seldom used and below is the complete entry from LSJ where you’ll see that it never means category:

κατήγορος, ὁ, accuser, Hdt.3.71, S.Tr.814, And.4.16, Lys.7.11, Pl.Ap.18a (pl.), Apoc.12.10, etc.; δημόσιος κ. public prosecutor, PFlor.6.6 (iii A.D.); betrayer, φρονημάτων ἡ γλῶσσʼ ἀληθὴς γίγνεται κ. A.Th.439; ἀμέλειά ἐστι σαφὴς ψυχῆς κ. κακῆς X.Oec.20.15; πνεῦμα ὧν κατήγορον, .. δρόμοις [ἡ φύσις] ἐκβιᾶται κατηγορέειν what the respiration reveals, Hp.de Arte12. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 927.

The word from which we get our English word “category” is actually a word with similar spelling: κατηγορία. This word is used 3x in the NT (Jn 18:29; 1 Tim 5:19; Tit 1:6). and is translated as “charges, accusation, charge.” Our English word “category” comes from its use in Logic. Again LSJ is helpful:

κατηγορία, Ion. -ίη, ἡ, accusation, Hdt.6.50, etc.; opp. αἰτία (expostulaton), Th.1.69; opp. ἔπαινος, ib.84; opp. ἀπολογία, Arist.Rh.1358b11; τὴν κ. ποιεῖσθαι Antipho 6.10, And.1.6; ὡς ὑβοίζοντος κ. ἐποιοῦντο X.An.5.8.1; κ. ἐγένοντο πολλαὶ τῶν Ἀθηναίων charges were made against .., Id.HG2.1.31; κατηγορίαι κατά τινος γεγόνασιν Isoc.5.147; εἰ .. ἐπὶ τοῖς πεπραγμένοις κατηγορίας ἔχω I am liable to accusation, D.18.240.
II. in Logic, predication, Arist.Metaph.1007a35, etc.: pl., Id.APo.84a1; esp. affirmative predicaton, opp. στέρησις, Id.APr.52a15; ἄπορον ἐν κ. Stoic.2.93.
2. predicate, Arist.Metaph.1004a29, 1028a28, al., Epicur.Ep.1p.23 U., etc.
3. more freq., category, head of predicables, Arist.Top.103b20 (ten), APo.83b16, Ph.225b5 (eight), Metaph.1068a8 (seven), cf. EN1096a29. Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 927.

You can see that II.3 explains how we got the English word category from this Greek word but it really doesn’t help Young make his point because this wasn’t the word used in Revelation 12:10 and John surely didn’t intend to make a connection to categorising people in an inappropriate way.

I hesitate to criticise Young for this inappropriate use of Greek but I think he needs to rethink his use of this verse especially given the gravity of his purpose. The lie that he wants to dispel in this chapter is “God is a Christian” and given the wow factor of his assertion that this is a lie he needs to be rock solid in his argumentation.


1 Comment »

  1. The Greek argument Young makes sounds suspiciously similar to the logic of our Sicilian friend in the Princess Bride in “the battle of wits”.

    Comment by neilandwendy — November 29, 2017 @ 19:51 | Reply

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